Group Decision Making – 7 Ways to Get Things Done

by Sharlyn Lauby on October 7, 2012

You can learn a lot about a group or team of people by watching the way they make decisions.

group, decisions, get things done, consensus, method, agreement

I was reading some research that suggests the way companies make decisions has an impact on how much people support those decisions. There are many different ways to reach a decision. Some involve the majority of participants and others only a few. Here are 7 ways that I’ve discovered for groups to make a decision:

Kill. A suggestion is made by one member of the group is immediately re­jected, either by one or more of the powerful members of the group or by the group as a whole. Think of the person who proposes an idea only to be met with “That’s stupid.” Or “That won’t work.” The idea is never explored any further.

Self-Authorized Decisions. A team mem­ber suggests a course of action and immediately proceeds upon that course on the assumption that, since no one disagreed, the group has given its approval.  Another term for this might be passive consent. Even if others agree with the decision, they may still resent the way it was made.

Handclasp. A suggestion made by one person elicits a reac­tion of support and permission to proceed from others.  The group may move into action without adequate testing as to whether the proposal is acceptable to the group as a whole.

Minority Support. A minority of the group makes a decision which the majority may or may not agree. This can lead to little future support by the group as a whole for the action taken. This might take place when the minority group holds tremendous power.

Simple Majority. A common method of determining ma­jority support is by voting. Many groups make the mistake of assuming that, because a majority supported the decision, the minority will come along enthusiastically.  While it’s possible they may, it’s also possible they may resent the action. Then if asked to give backing, they offer no more than token support or actively sabotage the decision.

Unanimity. Everyone completely agrees with the decision that’s being made and intends to support it.  In most cases genuine unanimity is impossible to obtain, inefficient, and unnecessary.

Consensus. All members have contributed to the decision and feel they’ve had a fair chance to influence the discus­sion.  Those few members who don’t prefer the majority decision at least understand it and are fully prepared to support it.

Of course, the one we have a tendency to strive for is consensus building, but not every decision is suited for consensus. It’s essential to choose the right method for the topic being discussed.

I doubt it’s necessary to achieve consensus on the decision about what color to paint the employee break room. But there are people out there who will kill themselves not just to get consensus but to reach unanimous agreement. There could also be times when it’s in the best interest of the company for a small group to make a decision, such as a company downsizing.

The next time you’re asked to a meeting, try to take a few moments to watch the group make a decision.  See if you can figure out if the decision is being made by the minority or by the majority of the group. And what decision making method they’re using. Ask yourself if the method fits the message.

Image courtesy of Robert Smith

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